15 December 2009

Christmas Heart

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Not to mention Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, and whatever else you might celebrate. I'm not picky -- I love 'em all!

My recording of Handel's Judas Maccabeus has gone missing this year, and I'm feeling a little off-kilter, musically speaking. The "alleluia" from that work has the "Hallelujah Chorus" from The Messiah completely whupped, as far as I can tell. Every time I hear it, the hair on my arms stands straight up. In fact, if memory doesn't fail me, I believe I had it played as part of our wedding music.

Nevertheless, I have all my favorite carols and dippy 1940s and '50s (and '60s) Christmas pop songs, and Dar Williams' "Christians and the Pagans," which makes me smile every time I listen to it.

I will never forget the first time I heard "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I was 10, and it was my mid-year piano recital. The recital was held in the church where the teacher's husband was assistant pastor, in the evening. All the candles were lit, and it was lovely.

My teacher's oldest student was a young woman who was taking voice lessons. I don't remember playing, but I remember this beautiful woman standing up and saying, "My husband just came home from Viet Nam. This is for him." And then she sang. Tears were streaming down her face and many others, but she didn't waver, didn't crack -- she sang her heart out. I have loved that song ever since. (Karen Carpenter helped "lock it in," I'll confess.)

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" -- in context -- is another heartbreaker. It's WWII-era. The lyrics have a not-quite-bitter edge: Through the years, we all will be together -- if the fates allow..." But it's also another wish for love and peace and family, in spite of the distance and the sadness.

For the record, I cannot stand "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Those other reindeer are sorry snots, and Rudolph himself is something of a wuss, running off and sniffling (if not sniveling...) until Santa comes to the rescue. I used to love "Little Drummer Boy" - the traditional version - until I worked retail for a few years. By the time I left Piece Goods Shop, I swore if I ever again had to listen to Burl Ives butcher that poor kid, I was gonna hurt someone.

(Incidentally, I generally love Burl Ives. It's just that one song... And also incidentally, did you know ol' Burl's middle name was "Ivanhoe"? Honest - would I kid you about a thing like that?)

My hands-down favorites are (1) the third verse of "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," which I've never seen anywhere except the Episcopal hymnal, and which is a whole 'nother blog, and (2) a recording of "Little Drummer Boy" done in the '80s by a regionally semi-famous North Carolina band called Arrogance. It was a one-take deal, I'm sure. They kept trying to play it straight. In fact, every time one of them would crack up, another one would yell something to the effect of, "Get serious!" They finally made it through the first verse, and then the drummer --

The drummer broke away and ripped into this absolutely knock-your-socks-off, high-school-marching-band-drum-corps-eat-your-heart-out solo riff and just basically tore it up. And I figure that's the whole point.

The whole point of Christmas - the whole point of any birth, but especially Christmas - is to have as much fun as possible and then do your dead-level best to do your dead-level best. Don't look back, don't think about it, just do it. Throw your heart into it and play.

13 December 2009

Pedaling on

Nellie Belle, the blue Bianchi, has been in the shed for a couple of weeks now. By the time the earache got better, it was colder than cold (not to mention raining), and I haven't ridden in a bit. Maybe Sunday - it looks like it might be a little better out.

But in the meantime, I finally downloaded the pictures I took on the way home two weeks ago, as I came through downtown Louisville.

On Market Street, as you're coming out from the West End, you pass a couple of places of interest -- like the Glass Factory, where they used to have the world's greatest jazz club before it gave up the ghost, and where they still let you make your own glass ornaments, in addition to watching glassblowers as work -- and then you pass under the highway and you're downtown.

The incredible thing to me is that, looking back over my shoulder as I waited for the light, I could see roses still blooming in the post-Thanksgiving chill.

Of course, the big thing on Thanksgiving weekend is "Light Up Louisville," when they turn on all the Christmas lights in the courthouse square. This year the big deal was that they switched everything over to LED lights to save money, which is good. Beats the heck out of a few years ago, when they were bringing in the big tree via helicopter and they kind of dropped it...

And there were roses in the square, too.





03 December 2009

Balance

Today was a first. I got up at 6:15 and rode to work with Mr. Early Bird - in the dark - voluntarily. Not because I had to be at a meeting and needed to be sure I got there earlier than usual. Because I wanted to.

I've said many times, I don't do "early." I've been a night owl all my life, resisting sleep as long as I could, making up for it well into the morning. In fact, I haven't had to resist since about 1969 - my brain is just set on Night Life Standard Time, and hauling my butt out of bed before dawn is ugly, if not
downright traumatic.

But I hadn't been able to make it to yoga class for over a week, and there was a class scheduled for 7:30 a.m. at the fitness center. So Ed dropped me off at Java Brewing Co. at 7 a.m. on the button - I think the "open" sign had just come on - and I was upstairs, sitting on my mat, barefoot with almond-hazelnut latte in hand, at 7:22.

I've decided I need to do Thursday mornings more often. There were only two of us and the instructor, and apparently, that's how it usually is in the early morning class. It was different - there are usually 15 or 20 in the afternoon classes - and it was easier to get centered and go deep into the practice. We got 1:1 help lining up body parts: I found once I learned what it feels like to have my hips squared, it wasn't hard, but I hesitate to plant my feet as wide apart as I need to, and apparently, that's why I wobble a lot of the time.

This is part of my training for next year's long rides. In fact, at the moment, it's the only halfway-consistent part of my training... People keep scheduling me into unduckable meetings at noon, for God's sake, on Body Sculpting days. And - all apologies to y'all who ride in Flagstaff and Wasilla - I just have a real hard time getting out on the bike when it's black as night and 31 degrees with a wind chill of 22! So I try, but yoga is as close as I get to a sure thing most weeks.

Part of it is the core strength training. You don't know until you've done it how much work it takes to go from a Runner's Lunge to a Downward Facing Dog to a Plank to a Baby Cobra, and in between, stretches pulling knee to chest with the opposite hand reaching far out in front of you. I'm not talking about stretching muscles you didn't know you had. I'm talking about breaking a sweat.

For me, though, it's just as much about balance - something I've never had much of. I've always been flexible; before the arthritis set into my knee, I was pretty much "rubber-band girl," and I can still bend from the hips and put my palms flat on the floor. But I always kind of figured most people had one or the other - flexibility or balance - and my gift wasn't balance. I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was almost 10, and it took me five months from the time I got the bike to the time I learned to stay upright for the width of the back yard. Walking curbs or stepping stones was always a challenge. Even now, I sometimes turn too quickly and go down hard. (Which, BTW, is the reason for the severe arthritis in one knee but not the other. I always land on the left one ... and kneecaps can only tolerate so many full-body-weight whacks on blacktop or terrazzo before they start to fall apart.)

I learned a couple of things this morning, in addition to keeping my hips squared while holding Pigeon pose. The first is that, contrary to my gut feeling, I'm not more stable when I plant my feet a comfortable distance apart. When I pushed my limits - when, at Ashley-Brooke's insistence and even (gentle) physical prodding - I stretched the right another four inches forward and the left another two or three inches back, then I was able to rise and stretch from the Runner's Lunge to Warrior pose and not tip over like a little teapot.

The second thing I learned in conversation as we ended practice, and it grew in my consciousness the rest of the day. My classmate commented that she liked it better when there were only a couple of us, and I agreed. For some people, it may be more awkward; they're more conscious of what they can't do, more anxious about everyone looking at them. For us, it was easier to quiet our minds with not as many people in the room. For me, it was easier to turn off conscious thought and just feel - a very right-brained kind of practice.

I work with words all day, every day. Even at home, when I have time to sit down, I'm writing. (Okay, except when I'm crocheting, which is not nearly enough with Christmas coming!) When I get to yoga class, I need to turn off the words. When push comes to shove, I am a right-brained person, and even though I love writing, I get overwhelmed by all the words much of the time. My friend Georgianna laughs about that - when we get together, she talks and talks and I nod and nod - but that's part of why I love her. It gives me a chance to turn my words off for a bit. Georgie talks for both of us. ;-)

But turning those words off isn't easy. As much as they wear on me, I love them, and it's hard to let them go even for a little bit. And in a room full of people, the "collective consciousness" can be intense. An intuitive person can be bombarded with everyone's anxieties, everyone's self-consciousness - all that intense focus, even - and the right brain can get shouted down.

So even going to yoga class a couple times a week, I spend a lot of time off balance. Not just physically. And as the day went on, I became aware of what the psychic "off-balance" was doing to me.

Later today, I encountered a couple of situations where I was suddenly angry. The anger was justified in both cases, but it seemed out of proportion, at least from where I was sitting. (That would be the "I" who was sitting back watching "me" feel angry.) Why? Because words weren't helping me. In one case, my words were being requested, but then rejected - an editing job that was apparently just for show. I had to ask the client, "If they're going to blow off all my edits, why am I doing this?"

In the other situation, I was acutely aware of the disconnect between what was being reported in a meeting and what was actually going on - but I couldn't say anything. It wasn't the time or place for pronouncements or argument; it would have made things worse instead of better. I had to step back and let it go.

The words let me down, and I didn't know what to do. I haven't been working my intuition enough. I'm off-balance.

Here at the end of an old year, I'm intentionally evaluating and plotting the course for next year. There's something very important about this whole "balance" thing - I need to let the idea marinate for a bit. I think it may have a lot to do with the new year.




01 December 2009

PS: The new picture

Up there at the top. The socks with feet in them. Woolies.

Crocheted 'em myself. They're made of hand-dyed 100% wool purchased at last year's International Livestock Exposition at the Kentucky Fairgrounds, the same day I killed my previous cell phone by slamming it in the car door. (Yep. Seriously.)

Looked for the Wool Lady at this year's Expo, but she wasn't to be found. Sad face...

This is the first pair of socks I ever made, and I love them. They're great for cycling, and the colors are cheery and uplifting, especially in gray November. I quickly learned that, even as fast as socks go along, I get bored by the time I get to the end of the first one, so it helps to switch things around a bit for the second. I've made a few pairs now, and not one pair consists of two identical socks. Mostly, the differences are a little more subtle than this, though.

Thanksgiving

After a while, four-day weekends start to feel kind of like the fifth or sixth really good downhill run on a long bike ride: it finally dawns on you that what goes down must go back up, and you stop saying "woo-hoo!" and start focusing on gathering steam for what comes after. It's not a bad thing, just not the wild, unfettered jubilation it started out to be.

I mean, hills are good. They're where you feel the strength you've gained since the last ride. They're where you push and test yourself, where you build more strength still, where you feel it surging up through your calves and thighs and lungs even as you wonder whether you'll make it to the top. They're where you learn your limits, and where you learn to bull your way past those limits. There aren't many things as potent as cresting a hill that scared the crap out of you when you saw it coming, and realizing that you did it, and you never once had to get off and push the bike.

Which is a similar feeling to that which comes on the second day back at work, when you get tossed a project that's big, requires a total rewrite -- with imagination thrown in, because the business owner doesn't even like the format as it exists -- and has a two-day turnaround request attached. It takes two hours to beat it into a form that's workable. The Word file is uneditable because it's in a fragmented table format that refuses to be converted to text; the PDF has to be exported and sorted out first. By the end of the day, it's starting to make sense, but now you've got to figure out what to do with it.

I love what I do -- translating "corporate-speak" into real, everyday language so our customers can understand it. Much of it's legalese, and almost all of it's obscure and jargony, and I take pleasure in wrestling half-page paragraphs down to a few concise sentences that actually make sense.

But Wednesday, I had other things to do. I'd ridden the bike to work, and I was grateful to have the only director to show up in our department declare the holiday to officially start at 1 p.m. instead of 5. It gave me time to ride home by way of Spring Street (Clifton Community Garden at left), Frankfort Avenue (the Wine Cellar), Shelbyville Road (Breadworks), and Evergreen (Anchorage -- big hills and bigger money). By the time I arrived at the house, my panniers were loaded with two bottles of wine, two large loaves of bread, and of course, my shoes and dress clothes from the office. We stopped at Paul's Vegetable and Fruit Market on the way back to church.

Thursday, I shared the kitchen with my daughter. In summer, we share space in the garden -- in winter, it's the kitchen. We work around each other very well, and when called for, we collaborate effectively. Mostly, though, she has her areas of expertise and I have mine and we negotiate timetables. Briony bakes, I do sides, Ed smokes the turkey on the grill (a charcoal kettle grill that's about three feet tall, 18 inches in diameter, and has more versatility than you could ever imagine). Bri mixes, I wipe counters, Ed brings the turkey in after two hours to finish up in the oven. I chop, Bri rinses mixing bowls and implements to use again for the next project, and Ed goes to watch a football game.

Eventually, my daughter always saves the day, because eventually -- inevitably -- I sustain some kind of inadvertent injury and have to take a break. This year, it was the finger that found itself under the knife blade as said knife was slicing through the whole-grain cranberry loaf that went in the stuffing. Not sure how it happens, but I always manage to NOT bleed in the food. But bleed I did...

Bri's fiance, Rob, helped me with bandaids. We got four on the cut, and it immediately soaked through and started dripping blood onto the floor. I held a paper towel over the cut, tightly, but every time I let go, it started running down my hand again. We put on four more bandaids, tighter. It dripped. They were talking stitches, I was arguing that it would be ridiculous to go to the ER for a cut finger on Thanksgiving Day. The cut was a whole quarter of an inch long, on the side of my finger between the nail and the pad. You wouldn't think that much blood could come out of such a teensy slice.

Finally, Ed called the urgent care clinic at my request. I agreed I'd go there if they were open. They weren't, so Rob wrapped the finger in several layers of gauze and tape. It soaked through pretty quickly, but it didn't drip. I sat down for a few minutes to catch my breath and manufacture a few replacement red cells, Bri finished constructing the stuffing, and life went on.

The turkey was perfect. Early in the day, we'd had Lynne Rosetto Kasper on the radio with her Thanksgiving Day "Turkey Confidential," and she'd inspired me to try something I hadn't done before. I'd loosened the skin from the bird's chest and thighs and rubbed butter and seasonings densely under the skin -- parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. A Scarborough Faire turkey. More butter and seasonings in the chest cavity, two hours on the grill, two more in the oven, and I don't think we've ever had a more perfect turkey. It was juicy, tender, and actually even easy to carve, a task that's always been a challenge for us.

The key ingredients in the stuffing were Andouille sausage and the cranberry bread -- rich, dark, and spicy. Bri made spicy sweet potatoes, I made Brussels sprouts in cream. (I was the only one to eat any of them, but the rest went into a vegetable chowder last night, and it seems to be something of a hit, at least!) I'd found a recipe for cranberry-citrus chutney, but forgot to get the lemon and orange it called for. Fortunately, I still had half a box of clementines, three of which went in the chutney. It was probably sweeter than it was supposed to be, but still lovely. There was a savory pasta salad that had been marinating in the fridge for two days -- the perfect amount of time for something like that to gather flavor -- and apple pie and ice cream for dessert.

The best part of the meal came when I asked for an opinion on the stuffing (the recipe called for cornbread, and I'd just decided on impulse to substitute the cranberry bread). There was praise for the modification, and then Rob said, "It's all good. I mean, you remembered to put the sugar in the cranberries this year!" Bri started giggling and said, "Yeah, and the pies are actually cooked!" They were recalling Thanksgiving three or four years ago, when they'd only just begun dating, when I had indeed missed putting the sugar in the cranberry chutney, so it had "pucker power" that couldn't be beat. And Bri had pulled some diced pumpkin out of the freezer and made pies, only to discover the pumpkin had been put up raw -- when the pies came out of the oven, the pumpkin was still frozen in spots.

I think it was last Christmas -- or maybe it was Easter -- the kids were suggesting we pack the rolls up and send 'em to the Marines. The yeast hadn't done its job, the dough hadn't risen, and the rolls were basically the consistency of artillery shells. This holiday, the rolls didn't come until Friday morning -- I didn't start them early enough, and they didn't have time for their second rising -- and they weren't a whole lot better, although you could at least bite into them without risk of breaking a tooth. Eventually -- someday -- I will locate that good recipe I used to have, and we will have rolls again. Until then, I think I'll stick to my fallback position, which is a third stop on the way home, at Plehn's Bakery in St. Matthews. It's right on my way, just a couple miles east of the Wine Cellar, on the bus route to Middletown in case the bike and I decide to ride, and they have rolls that can't be beat!

Friday, the kids were off to work and Ed and I sat around and digested, for the most part. Saturday, I actually got out for a ride with the Louisville Bike Club, from Waterfront Park to Shawnee Park and back. I only rode as far as Shawnee Golf Course -- a couple miles shy of the round trip -- but between that and the ride home, I put in 30 miles altogether. Unfortunately, I left my fleece headband at home. The damp chill and the wind settled in my left ear, and it's been aching ever since.

But it was a wonderful weekend. I've felt rested and glad to be at work this week, and I'm thankful. As I said at church Wednesday night, when the mic came around to me, I'm thankful for music, for laughter, for my garden, and for people to share them with.

And, I might add now, for my bike, my kitchen, my family, and Lynne Rosetto Kasper. For Andouille and for cranberry bread. For brussels sprouts, heavy cream, and clementines. And for sweet potatoes, apple pie, and Breyer's ice cream.

For every good gift and every perfect gift, thanks be to God.

17 November 2009

Slogging through

It's November, and it's raining.

I haven't written a word of the novel in about a week. I knew all along it wasn't going to get finished in November anyway -- I started it over a year ago and hadn't touched it in months, and it was getting really complicated before October ever got close to ending -- but I really meant to push this month.

Well, water under the bridge and all that. Will write tonight, before I go to bed. (It's not like I haven't done anything. The story is several pages farther along in my head -- it's just a matter of getting it down in black and white.)

Work is strange. I've decided to just put my head down, work my tushie off, and not think about the "what ifs" and "maybes." So far, so good. Except that I keep getting interrupted by anxious people -- and by people who (a) don't know what they want, (b) think they do, and (c) keep missing their own deadlines by a week or two. To date, I have not slapped anyone, although the thought has crossed my mind.

Yoga class today was wonderful. Our little yogi, Ashley-Brooke -- she who appears to be barely out of her teens but with a very old soul and a kooky sense of humor -- reminded us that the rain is the Earth's way of cleansing itself. Reminded me of sister Murial, who used to laugh when I would miss Friday night meditation for weeks, then show up just as the rain started: "Oh, here's Cynthia, and she's brought us a cleansing again!" So I felt connected to Murial from the beginning. But then Ashley-Brooke suggested that, it being the new moon and all, we might want to use this time to cleanse ourselves of something that was weighing us down.

I decided to let go of my crankiness. That's not to say I won't still snap at people who are too dumb to live. Or too mean to die. It just means, if I can do something productive to remove the obstacles in my path, I will do that instead of just sitting at my desk and gritching. So...

Two hours later, I was confronted with a communication from one of those people (never mind which), and I decided to stay calm, be rational, and discuss instead of react. And what happened? This individual got defensive, testy, and actually almost combative.

Geez Louise.

But now, another six hours after, I'm wondering if that's not just a knee-jerk reaction on her part. Or maybe even a perfectly reasonable reaction, if she interpreted my opening remarks as being somehow preachy or smug. So tomorrow, I'll go back and go at it from another direction.

This reminds me of the Lent several years ago, when I decided to give up gossip. It was kind of an amazing transformational experience. You should try it sometime. :-)

Meanwhile, I'm going to keep slogging through the rain, churning out words and looking for the USB connector so I can download the pictures I took last weekend. One of these days, there will be pictures on this blog...

05 November 2009

NANOWRIMO

It's here! National Novel Writing Month - the month of November, when ambitious writers all over the world compete to try and knock out a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

I'm about 5,000 words in, so I'm running behind schedule at this point. If I'm not around much for the next 4 weeks, that's why. I'm finally getting that best-seller down on virtual paper!

It's really quite a challenge. Not the words so much as just doing it. Sitting down and committing to writing three pages before I get up - six on the weekends - typing and thinking and typing and thinking and (here's the scary part) not self-editing.

I can't do that yet. Or not do it, as the case may be. I'm getting better, but I still have to back up and correct typos as I sense them falling out of my fingers. I still catch myself reading over what I wrote last night to see if it makes sense. That's not the point. The discipline is the point. Finishing the first draft is the point. Learning you can go back and fill in the holes in your plot later is the point.

Right now, I have about a quarter of a story, woven in and out of three really good character sketches. Well, two really good ones, one pretty good one, and one really good accidental one that turned up in the middle of one of the really good ones about another character. Oddly, it's turning into a mystery, which is a genre I love but didn't really think I could write. And I have no idea where it's going. I haven't a clue how it's going to turn out. In fact, I don't know what these characters are going to do tomorrow morning when they wake up and realize their lives just did hairpin turns and tripped over things they didn't know were there. Never mind the end - they've got to get through tomorrow first!

And don't we all. God, I love writing!

18 October 2009

A Modest Proposal

I started a long blog about how negativity in the workplace feeds on itself and poisons the atmosphere, and I decided it was getting too involved. So for now, I'm just going to say this about that:

Save your drama for your mama.

I'm serious. I love you guys, but I can't work in an atmosphere of anxiety and perpetual worry over gossip. I'm going to have to start working from home a lot more, because I keep being interrupted by the latest scoop, the newest rumor, the most recent update on how we're getting screwed, either at work, at the bank, or by our insurance coverage.

It's not that I don't care. I do. But I'm distractible anyway, and what I'm doing requires me to focus. And your anxiety and negativity exacerbate the knots that weren't in my stomach until you started going on and on and on.

Instead, let me propose this: We form a team. We're already allegedly that, so let's act like it. Let's enact a few rules, and police each other to see they're followed. The rules I propose are these:
  1. If you can't say something positive, shut your pie hole. Go to your desk and write a journal entry if something's really bugging you. Or schedule a meeting with your manager and vent in a private room. And close the damn door. Schedule "services" for Our Lady of Consumption down at Proof on Main or Los Aztecas, meet your “bitchin' buddies” for a beer after hours, and complain all you like – then leave your complaints at Our Lady's altar and come back to work with a more positive perspective.
  2. Participate. We're having a chili cook-off, I hear. If the first thing out of your mouth wants to be something snide about "fiddling while Rome burns" – stuff a sock in it. Pull out your chili recipe and your Crock Pot and get cooking. Plan to be there, taste everyone else's chili, and make a point of bringing your new, positive attitude. If you come to share the camaraderie, we'd love to have you. If you come to complain, we're going to ask you to leave. The point is, some of us are trying to foster a sense of unity and cohesiveness and positivity in a somewhat anxious world. We'd love to have you join us, but only if you're really going to join us.
  3. Make fun. That's partly to say, if you can think of something more fun than a chili cook-off, let's see if we can get it off the ground. I personally think we should have some kind of a low-budget party every week for the duration. Create something to smile about. But it's also to say, if Mr. and Ms. Negativity show up at our parties and try to bring the mood down with their own gloom and doom, laugh them out the door. Stop playing into it. We don't have to accept the status quo.
The bottom line is, things get bad, then they get better. We can stew in our juices and get more and more depressed (and less and less productive), or we can get off our butts and seek out something to feel good about. Sink or swim, kids.

I prefer to swim. If you want to sink, go right ahead. But do it quietly, and do it somewhere else. If I can actually help, by all means, ask me. I’ll listen, I’ll offer suggestions, I’ll give you a pep talk, I’ll go to bat for you. But if all you want is to share your negativity so I’ll see and believe how shitty your life is and get on board the Doom Boat with you, forget it. You’re on your own.

14 October 2009

Pedal on, regardless

Day 1: Flash flood watches, in addition to heavy thunderstorm warnings. First day ride was called off. Eight hardy cyclists went anyway, and the rest of us worried about them all day.

Day 2: Bro. Bob convinced me (easily) to take the short route, which picked up at the first SAG stop and thus shaved 20 miles off the total ride. Then, at midpoint, he suggested I take the SAG truck to the next rest stop and resume the ride there, to make sure we got in before dark. By the time we reached said stop, my front tire had gone totally flat, and despite all efforts from the young man driving the SAG van from Lindsay Wilson College, it would not hold air. Not for nothin'... So it was back on the truck for me and Nellie Belle. I completed about 30 of the intended 90 miles.

Camp Acton: Great lasagna, good beer, excellent new friends and old relations! Enjoyed the evening immensely, and am eternally grateful to everyone who got the bike back on track: the anonymous donor of the appropriate tube, the guy whose name I can't remember who got it properly installed and aligned, and Nancy, who found a tube donor and coordinated the whole thing! I have to say, I've never met a Nancy who wasn't up to any challenge!

Day 3: Skipped the first leg on the advice of Nancy, who planned the route. She said, "If you aren't sure you can do the whole thing, go for the second part. It's beautiful." She was right.

I started from Lindsay Wilson College, after brunch. Bob left ahead of me -- totally fine, since by that time, we were each on our own agenda. I ended up walking about the last third of the very first hill, before ever even leaving town, and the second. Rode the third in low gear, but walked the fourth. Somewhere about half- to two-thirds of the way up that hill, Ed Stodola passed me. Ed is the "founding father" of this ride, and I'm not sure whether it was just my second wind kicking in or my latent competitive streak, but something gave me a kick in the butt at that point. That was the last hill I walked!

From there on, Nellie Belle and I rode the hills. The first few were tougher than advertised, but then they began to ease up. Not so obvious at first -- it was easy to say, Oh, I was ready for that one, or even, Gee, that wasn't as bad as it looked! I still had those 'Anne Lamott moments' -- the ones where I'd see a hill coming and start praying, "Help me, help me, thank you, thank you," before I ever even hit the incline. And the ones where I'd see the hill and the first thought in my head would be, "Oh, shit."

Not far into the first day, I stopped greeting great downhill runs with a reflexive "WOO-HOO!" It didn't take long before I learned that what goes down must go back up -- and after that, when the "down" came, it came with a caution. I did have one reprieve: the downhill run about 2/3 of the way to the second rest stop on Sunday. I wish I'd stopped to take a picture or two! The road surface was horrible, the route twisted and turned like nothing I've seen since we drove across Chunky Gal in western NC years ago... The limestone loomed on the right all the way down, the woods dense as midnight on the left, and when I shot out into daylight, into that long valley of meadows and cows and sunshine at the bottom, it took my breath away.

And before that -- flying down that mountain -- oh, my God. It was flying. Even though I had to keep tapping my brakes, even though the surface kept wanting to throw me, in spite of the sense of being a runaway train, all by myself... This is it. This is what it's about. For me, this is the essence of cycling: sitting on the seat, hands on the bars, leaning into the wind and flying. Just flying.

Altogether, I rode about 20 or 25 miles before the SAG van came back for me. I'd told one of the other riders to tell them to wait for me, and I was about a mile from the rest stop when they came over the ridge. "Get tired of waiting for me?" I asked. "Yep," the driver answered.

So there you go. I was bringing up the rear and holding up the show. I rode about half of the last two-thirds of the course for day 3.

But that is beside the point.

No excuses. I wasn't prepared. I hadn't trained hard enough. I didn't ride the whole route.

But -- these are not excuses. These are statements of fact.

There's no way to know what you're getting into on a ride like this until you do it. I had no idea, and I STILL did the best I could.

One of the women who does long rides regularly told me I had "more balls" than anyone she knew, because if this had been her first ride ever, she'd never have done another one. Can't say as I have any balls, other than balls o' yarn, but I appreciate the sentiment and I'll definitely do it again!

The route was a bitch on wheels. Bro Bob allowed as how, if he'd done Day 1, he might not have been up to Day 3. I dunno. But now that we know what it looks like, I'm committed to keeping up with him next year.

I'm back on Weight Watchers, as of today. I've scheduled a fitness assessment at the gym, and I've requested a personal training program.

I don't care if I'm the first one with "front wheels in" in 2010. But I have every intention of being there!

07 October 2009

Countdown

Friday morning. Liftoff...

Back in February, my kid brother (who's only 50-ish, as opposed to being MID-50-ish) overheard me talking about an organized three-day bike ride and told me if I'd do it, he would. Since it entailed my driving from Louisville to Carrollton, KY, and having Ed pick me up around Bowling Green, KY, and Bob driving from (and back to)the D.C. area, I thought -- what the hell, it's his gas money! And promptly found myself, shall we say, "in the soup."

All summer, I've been riding my bike most of the places I meant to ride, not nearly as often as I intended. I've probably racked up about a third of the miles on my "wish list," which is going to send my friend Stacey screaming if she reads this, because it's supposed to be all about commitment, but as far as I could figure, the commitment was to do the ride. In between then and now, I had to give my best shot to getting ready.

Last Sunday, I rode from home, in the Lyndon area of Louisville, to the St. James Art Fair, down in Old Louisville, south of downtown. It's an annual event, one of my favorites, and it was a great ride besides. I rode to church, then down Frankfort Avenue to Nancy's Bagel Grounds for a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee, then took back streets to St. James Court.

One of the delightful things about riding -- as if I'd never mentioned this before (or assuming you've never read my blog before) -- is that you get to know your surroundings in a whole different dimension. By mid-summer, I knew the best back streets to get downtown or home, and I knew a couple of alternate routes for a really good workout. Sunday, I rode through the Highlands to Swan Street, then over to St. Catherine. It's not the upwardly mobile part of Louisville, but I love it. In the Highlands, it depends on where you are -- really, which side of Bardstown Road you're on, I think. By the time you get down around Lynn's Paradise Cafe', made semi-famous on Bobby Flay's "showdown" show, it's already starting to lean to the funky side of bohemian, and beyond that, well, skip the boho. It's funky. Period. This is a good thing.

Perhaps, when I am old and gray, if I happen to be living alone and don't feel like messing with this house any more, I shall buy myself a shotgun house on St. Catherine Street on the easternish edge of Old Louisville, near Third Street, kind-of-sort-of in the general vicinity of St. James Court.

But I digress. (Pogo stick!) Friday. Oh, yes, indeed...

Friday morning, we depart Carrollton, KY, at 8:30-ish a.m. (BTW, I live on "ish time." In case you hadn't noticed. And I don't do "early.") The first day is about 60 miles. I can do that. I did 40 last Sunday, by the time I got done going in circles around the Scenic Loop in Cherokee Park (got on the loop and couldn't get off...), and I know I can do 60. The question is, can I do 90 the next day?

We shall see. Oh, yes, indeedyroo, we shall definitely see. I am getting ever so slightly anxious, but not so much as to call it panicky or anything. Just a little edge of self-motivation going on.

Tomorrow, I go to the office for one more day this week. Yesterday I was there for 10 hours, today about 11. I have two major projects and one that's not as "major" as the business owner would like to believe that must be nailed down before I leave tomorrow evening. And so they shall. Tomorrow morning is Project #1, from noon to about 2 p.m. is #2, and then I shall devote an hour or two to #3 -- the one that's not so much all that. And then I shall come home, pack my paniers, and ponder the importance of this seismic shift in my identity.

Friday morning is liftoff. Friday morning I make the official transition from Weakling, Slug, Sorriest Specimen the Gym Teacher Has Ever Seen, etc... to Athlete. Sometime in June or July, I became an official cyclist. In August or so, I decided to shoot for the Senior Olympics next year. But this ride makes it official. Makes it real. Makes it inescapably, irrevocably, absolutely, documentably true: that I am an athlete.

T-minus 19.75 hours and counting.

28 September 2009

The Last Tomatoes

I was going to dig up the tomato vines yesterday afternoon. I took a nap instead - it seemed like a better idea. There are still tomatoes out there.

They need to come in, sure - it's getting down in the 50s in the evenings now, and they're not going to get any riper out there than they already are. In the house, in the basket, they'll turn red and be reasonably tasty, although not so much as the earlier ones that ripened on the vine. Still better than your average supermarket tomato.

Tonight, I used up the last of what's already in the house. It's just me on Mondays - Ed is off playing Dartball, Mitch is either at work or with Ed, Bri is either at work or across the river at her "home away from home." It's quiet here - me and the dogs and no one else, and I can talk to them or not. They don't care much either way, as long as I'm not yelling. Monday is my evening to do as I please.

That's not to say I don't get to do as I please the other six days a week. When we dine out, it's this inevitable skirmish: "Where do you want to go?" "I don't know, where do you want to go?" "I picked last time. You pick." "I always pick. You pick." And usually, I end up picking (although I really don't know, at least half the time).

And we have way too many TVs in this house. The upshot of it is that Ed usually ends up watching a ball game in the bedroom, Mitch watches Comedy Central or the Cartoon Network downstairs, and I sit in the kitchen and either watch one of the handful of shows I watch or don't turn the TV on at all. "Big Bang Theory," "Criminal Minds," "NCIS," "Cold Case." Rachel Maddow, if I'm in the mood. "House Hunters International" when I think of it. Otherwise, the computer is set to streaming on WFPK or playing one of my playlists on Playlist.com.

So, yes, I do as I please a lot of nights. But Monday nights, I just do. I don't have to think about it, don't have to consider what the others will eat - or when. I don't get lured away for a run to the Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen... (Yeah, I know. It's a hard life - what can I tell you?)

So tonight, I had the luxury of spending nearly an hour peeling, seeding, and chopping the last really fresh tomatoes. I had time to separate them by variety and seed them into three different bowls, each labeled for next season. We have Joe Thienamans, Hungarian paste, and what I've decided to call Volunteers of Amerika - the hardy, small but meaty little guys that came up in between two of the varieties we planted on purpose.

Then I chopped them and threw them in a skillet with their juice, a little olive oil, and a whole onion, peeled and quartered. Let them simmer for about half an hour, and I'm eating them over 5-cheese ravioli with a chunk of French bread left from last night's beef stew. The first bowl had smoked gouda layered between the pasta and the sauce. This bowl is just pasta, tomatoes, and onions. Oh, and about a teaspoon of minced garlic and a splash of Malbec from the bottom of my wine glass before I poured a fresh glass.

Later, I'll prop up my feet, sitting crossways in the armchair that's in the corner by the big window, and I'll crochet while watching "Big Bang." Right now, though, my taste buds and I are going to enjoy one more nearly-autumn wallow in the glory of September tomatoes.

19 September 2009

Eggy

I've said many times in my life that if my doctor ever tells me I have to give up eggs, I will tell her to just shoot me now.

I can't think of a way I don't like eggs. Scrambled is good; an omelet is even better. Sunny side up is lovely. Runny yolks are fabulous if you have toast or biscuits to clean the plate up; firm yolks have a savory substantiality* that's filling beyond words. Poached: a childhood favorite that still can make me feel illogically, happily serene. Hard boiled (or even better, medium-boiled, so the yolks are firm but still golden and not crumbly), piping hot and mushed in a bowl with butter and pepper: comfort food.

Egg salad.** (Tuna salad.) French toast. Boiled custard. Somewhere around here there's a recipe for a disgustingly yummy baked egg casserole with sliced boiled eggs, a creamy sauce, and a crushed potato chip topping. Deviled eggs... I used to embarrass my mother at church suppers, sampling a deviled egg or two from each of the six or eight or ten plates from various kitchens. The deviled eggs were a whole course, as far as I was concerned. I could eat a dozen at a sitting. And I'm not saying a dozen stuffed halves. I'm talking about a dozen eggs, each split and stuffed.

A woman I know has grandchildren who love eggs. She left two dozen in the condo refrigerator when her son and his family stayed there this summer - and the kids ate all of them in less than two days. But when she bought a special treat - fresh eggs from an actual chicken-owner - they complained that the eggs tasted "too eggy."

Eggs that are too eggy. Sad. Pass 'em over here, kid. I can take care of that.

We get our eggs from the Egg Guy. I can never remember his name, although eventually, I'll learn it. He has a booth at two different farmer's markets here in town - one on Wednesday afternoons and one on Saturday mornings. He also sells local, pasture-grazed meat and poultry, fresh garlic, and garlicky stuff like a wonderful garlic-scape pesto - but the eggs are the main thing. He has several different breeds of chickens, and he packs out his eggs in clear cartons so you can see the colors of the shells - everything from a dark-brown-sugar color to a pale minty green, and always an even mix of four to six colors. The carton labels are printed on a home computer color printer; they have bright-pastel chickens grazing in grass, and rainbow-colored type.

A few weeks ago, we started hearing a rooster in the morning. We already knew you can have livestock here in the city limits - my daughter has a friend who keeps chickens, and we've spotted two different addresses with goats in the back yard - but a rooster was a little bit of a surprise. For one thing, the rule is that you have to have at least an acre to keep a rooster.

Then one morning as I left for work, I noticed a chicken pen in the far back corner of the next-door neighbors' back yard. I still didn't connect it with the rooster - all I saw was two hens, one brown and one reddish. Pretty cool, I thought.

The rooster was never a bother. We'd hear him when we were already up, getting ready for work, and he'd generally crow once or twice, and that would be it. I was curious about the chickens, but not enough to go out of my way to find out.

A couple of Saturdays ago, Tammy - the mom next door - waved down my daughter and me as we got out of our car. She wanted to know if the rooster was bothering us.

"Oh!" we laughed. "Is this where the rooster lives?" We assured her that we hadn't been bothered at all - that he apparently slept in relatively late for a rooster, and we were usually up before he was.

Turns out, her youngest son, a high-school senior, had come home from the state fair with three chickens. They were keeping the rooster in the garage, but Tammy was having a tad bit of distress over the potential for ticking off the neighbors.

Now I will grant you, my dear husband is a little mystified at the notion of livestock next door, but it doesn't really bother him as long as (a) it doesn't smell and (b) he doesn't have to look after it. For me, it's just one step closer to where I'd love to be sometime before I die. I have my garden, I have my dogs and my big yard and my roses, and I have my kitchen with plenty of counters and a farmhouse-style sink. All that's left is a view of something more than other brick houses and neighbors' landscaping, and a driveway long enough that it makes more sense to get out the bike than to walk all the way to the mailbox.

I don't know that I want chickens. In fact, I've never liked them, up close and personal. My great-uncle took me out to feed them once when I was about three or four, and the rooster - who was almost as tall as I was - thought I might make a nice lunch. I was traumatized, and ever since, I've said the only way I like chickens is dead on a plate. Having them next door, though, isn't bad at all, and I may offer to feed them if the neighbors go out of town for a weekend.

Now, goats - that's different. Goats and dogs get along famously. Goats are personable, and although my experience is that you'd probably do best to keep them well away from the clothesline and the rose bushes, there's only a hair of truth behind the idiom, "smelly as a goat." The bucks do smell pretty randy after they've reached puberty, but the only reason to have a buck is for breeding purposes. And the best way to do that is to pay someone a fee to keep your doe for a few days and let her get acquainted with their buck.

Some people don't care for goat milk - I'll grant you, it's pretty rich - but most of the negative reviews I've heard are along similar lines as saying local eggs taste "too eggy." My youngest child lived on goat milk from the time I stopped nursing him (right after the second tooth came in) until he was about three. Cow's milk and milk-based formulas shredded his digestive system, but we had friends who had friends who had goats, and we traded garden produce for milk once a week. I don't remember what we traded in the winter, but there was always something that worked.

Goat cheese is soft and creamy, savory but not tart or sharp. Goat's milk yogurt is less sour than cow's milk yogurt. And they both mix nicely if you want to put them in your scrambled eggs.

There's not much can compare with an eggy-milky omelet.

________________

*Substantiality [sub-stan-chi-al-i-ty]: My blog, my vocab, and if necessary, my word coinage. Remember? :-)

**Super Easy Eggy Salad
6 eggs, hard boiled, cooled and peeled (fresh from the egg guy are best)
1-1/2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
2-3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish (I'm currently using Sweet Dillies from CC's Kitchen in Crestwood, KY - contact info available on request - but if you love it, it's perfect!)

Dump in bowl. Mash everything together with a fork or egg-chopper until it's a soft, moderately lumpy mess. Heap on slabs of whole-grain bread and stuff into your face. The sweet pickles, zingy mustard, and savory eggs balance each other to make the most comforting, flavorful sandwich imaginable.

14 September 2009

Navigating

Hit Cherokee Park this evening for the first time since back in the early summer. I'd made a round of Seneca Park (they're adjacent) a few weeks ago, but coming home from work tonight, I decided to go for broke.

Cherokee Park has some hills that are - at least to a relative novice like me - somewhat challenging. In fact, the last time I attempted them, they were seriously challenging. In fact... when I rode part of the loop from Seneca the other week, they were still pretty serious. And being under three weeks out from the big 3-day ride, I need serious hills.

So yes, they were still serious tonight. But you know what? I have now done that Maryhurst hill twice. The second time, I didn't even have to shift all the way down. I made the top in 1:4. I rode home that night the long way, up the long hill on Dorsey Lane, through Owl Creek, up Wade to Evergreen, and up that long hill back to LaGrange Road, and I only stopped twice. And had a drink of water and then rode from where I was to the top of the hill.

This evening, I had my route mapped out, but I hadn't visually memorized it. I made it up Baxter to Cherokee, but I missed Alexander somewhere and ended up wandering happily around Cherokee Triangle for some time. Cherokee Triangle is a lovely old neighborhood full of "Aunt Tot" houses - I know, if you're not related on my dad's side, you won't get that, but if you are, you know exactly what I mean! Well-maintained homes, at least 3,000 square feet each, original Mission style or maybe "pseudo-Tudor" from the same general period, with well-tended, gracious lawns and lots of space between houses. After a while, though, I began to notice that it wasn't getting earlier, and that I wasn't entirely sure where I needed to go from where I was. Sadly, I'd ridden those same streets, many of them, a few weeks ago when I branched out from Seneca Park, but in spite of those fairly frequent flashes of "oh, yeah!" I wasn't quite sure how they fit together anymore.

But then I rounded another curve and - oh, yeah! - there was Scenic Loop, which meant that I was officially In The Park. And I rode.

It's roughly five miles from the office to where I realized I was where I wanted to be, except that I'd probably put in an extra three or four exploring the neighborhood. What I'd mapped was a whole lot of Cherokee Parkway and Pee Wee Reese Road, not so much Scenic Loop. I took a wrong turn a couple of times and had to double back, and there were moments when - even when I knew I was in the park - I wasn't sure where in the park. But the really bitchin' hills, I remembered. They were the ones that almost did me in back in June.

Today, I made it to the fountain without ever once getting off to push. I stopped twice halfway or more up a hill and had a long drink of water, then knocked my gears back to where they felt right and took off again. I stopped when my front fender, which had come unhitched on the left, started dragging badly on the right against the tire. Another thing about commuting regularly and paying attention to how your gears feel is that you also learn how your tires should feel - and my front tire was feeling really sluggish. So I stopped at the fountain, checked my 20 with a lovely woman out for a walk, and called my daughter.

To shorten the long story:
  • Nellie Belle is off to the shop again tomorrow, to fix the fender and check the tire and assess her actual, realistic road-worthiness for a three-day ride.
  • If it turns out Nellie Belle is not up to the three-day ride, Plan B is to retrofit Bri's bike - Betty - with the appropriate gears, handlebars, and road wheels and start learning how Betty should feel going uphill.
  • I guess I'm driving tomorrow after all.
  • I now have yet another route home from work.
And I'm hanging in there. My navigation skills are still a bit suspect, but I'm getting a lot better at hills. Beginning with my "driving in Louisville" philosophy - there's always another way to get there - I'm learning my way around some places I'd never see in a car.

I've lived a lot of places. I've loved several of them. I don't think I've known one this well since San Jose - because this is the first time since then that I've navigated on the ground, through the neighborhoods, up and down the streets, learning my city at eye level. Navigating in a car, you watch for traffic, for lights, for street signs. Navigating on a bike, you watch for traffic, for street signs, and for friendly-looking people. For landmarks. For "oh, yeah!" moments.

I'm working on Daddy's trick of knowing what direction he was going depending on the angle of the sun. (The season is slowing me down a bit - the angle seems to have shifted somewhat abruptly a couple of days ago.) In the meantime, I'm learning the hills, and I'm learning Louisville better than anywhere I've lived in over 30 years.

08 September 2009

Healthcare

Spent the weekend down at Mom's, not talking about healthcare. Probably just as well.

Actually, she wanted to discuss. Mentioned to my spouse on the phone that she wanted to know what was going to happen to her healthcare. Short answer: not a thing, Mom. But she's concerned, and I understand that. And I apologize, in case anyone mentions this blog to her, for failing to open the discussion. Next week, maybe? Will that work, Ma? Call me!

What I don't understand is the hysteria - the downright psychotic ravings - of the Right. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure a good bit of Mom's concern is fed by those ravings, from friends and (God help us all) relations all too ready to jump on any right-wing conspiracy theory that waves at them.

On the other hand, I'm also frustrated and annoyed at the political rhetoric and blame-laying that targets only the insurance companies. There's plenty of blame to go around, guys. And we've got to stop pointing fingers and figure out how to work together, or we're not going to solve this - not really.

Here's what I know:
  • We need medical professionals and institutions. But we also need them to be in it for something other than the money. Yes, I know, a lot of doctors chose medicine so they could do good in the world - the paycheck was gravy. But these days, we have a shortage of family practitioners and other primary care professionals, because medical students are choosing to go into specialties instead. And I'm sure some of them are becoming specialists so they can save the world, one joint or kidney or cervix at a time. My educated guess, though, is that the paycheck is a bit more than gravy. How about a little humanitarianism, kids? And how about hospitals not padding the bills they send insurance companies to make up for the bills they know they're not going to be able to collect, even if they do put liens on people's mobile homes? (Anyone remember that story? It was reported in that radical left-wing publication, the Wall Street Journal, a few years ago - a VERY few years. I want to say 2006.)
  • We need pharmaceutical companies. We need research and development, and we need medications that fight cancer, flu, and vertigo. We need vaccines so we don't get smallpox or polio or chickenpox. What we don't need is new prescription drugs rolled out regularly, marketed like they're God's Gift, with doctors being pressured to prescribe them and people being persuaded to beg for them - with R&D quietly being carried on in the meantime because, in a few years, the patent is going to run out and the cash cow is going to stop producing. Have you ever noticed that every time the previous God's Gift from the Chem Lab goes generic (or worse, OTC), it's either closely followed or else actually preceded by a "new and improved" version? One that is marketed even more intensively, priced even higher, and - it turns out - may or may not actually work better...
  • We need insurance companies. Face it: the majority of Americans who have insurance actually like the coverage they have and don't plan to change any time soon. Most insurance companies, honest or not, have some decent plans out there. There's even at least one U.S. medical insurance company with a CEO who's been preaching healthcare reform for years. And he's not just talking about "cost-shifting." He's talking about freedom of choice, 21st-century electronic record-keeping, cost transparency from all players, evidence-based medicine, and even (brace yourself) personal accountability. And his company is trying to shift its focus from being the fallback position when people get sick, to rewarding people for finding ways to stay well - and then being there to help when they get sick after all. But I digress... What we don't need is actuaries rejecting people out of hand or charging them exponentially more for coverage because they have chronic health conditions they need help managing, or because they once had a condition that left them in a wheelchair. And for the record, we need a public option. Yes, we need to level the playing field, but let's really level it. Let's all accept our share of the responsibility, instead of just pointing fingers at an easy mark.
  • Finally, we need personal responsibility. We need to wake up and smell the coffee: The fact is, the vast majority of healthcare dollars go to pay for treating preventable conditions. Most of the things that kill us come from doing things we chose to do, knowing they were bad for us. Heart conditions, type 2 diabetes, obesity... We need to get off our fat butts, turn off the TVs, and start walking to the bus stop instead of driving two blocks to the grocery store. We need to find a buddy and quit smoking. We need to demand that the nutrition information on foods be printed in a font big enough to read - and we need to read it, and use it. We need to knock off the sodas and drink more water. We need more cookbook authors like Holly Clegg (shameless plug there), who publishes the complete nutrition info per serving for every recipe in every book she publishes.
The other thing we need to do - we left-leaning believers in healthcare reform who know darn well there's more than enough blame to go around - is get over our anxiety about being yelled at and start talking back. We have to stop just rolling our eyes at the paranoid conspiracy theorists and talking about them behind their backs, and tell them to shut up. Ask them for documentation of their claims. Don't accept hysterical ravings and meandering rants that mean nothing. Just push them to clearly, logically, factually back up their arguments.

I betcha money they can't do it.

03 September 2009

Nuts

I've mentioned my dad several times in the last few blogs, and it occurs to me that I miss him. He's been gone a year and four months, but there are still moments when I forget that.

Tonight I figure the world could use a laugh, so I'm going to tell you the story about my last wedding.

First, yes, I've had more than one. In fact, I've had more than two, and they all come with stories attached. For one thing, this most recent was the first one I was on time for, but that's another blog or two. And as a point of fact, I usually refer to it as "the last one" rather than "the most recent one" because I'll be damned if I'm going to go around this particular mulberry bush again. When my dad realized Ed and I were "getting serious," as they used to say back in the Dark Ages, he asked me how many times I was planning on doing this marriage thing. My answer: "Daddy, I'm gonna run this play 'til I get it right."

So this is the last one, 'cause I nailed it, as far as I can tell. And if I find out later I didn't, I'm surely not going to set myself up again!

Be that as it may... We got welded (as my old friend the Rev. Geoffrey St. John Hoare used to say) on Saturday, November 3, 2001. It was small, but madness nevertheless: planning a wedding in the month after 9/11 was stressful, to say the least. Migraines abounded.

My family started wandering into Louisville on Friday evening. My sisters arrived first, but missed their exit, ended up across the river, and called from Indiana at about midnight. Bri and I were still putting buttons - about 50 of them, I think - on my dress, and we had a really punchy conversation with sister Paula about Barbie's physiology. They gave up trying to find us and got a motel room over there, and we did actually get a little sleep.

Mom and Dad came in the next morning, and my elder son, a U.S. Marine, arrived on a red-eye flight from California or somewhere in mid-morning, and we all went to lunch and then caravaned to the church, because even though it was a straight shot from where we were, I was afraid to try to give anyone directions at that point. When we arrived, a couple hours before the wedding, my sisters were there and we girls set up camp in the parlor, while the boys and my parents went upstairs with my friend Georgianna to set up the reception.

Started getting dressed and we realized we'd left the jacket to my dress in the closet back at the apartment, along with my daughter's suit. My daughter, Bri, and younger son, Mitch (who lived in the apartment with me but is monumentally directionally challenged), headed back to fetch them.

Meanwhile, my younger sister, Cheri, who was supposed to do my hair, had left her hot curlers, round brushes, hairpins, and other do-dads and necessities in North Carolina. She didn't have time to go back for them, so I plundered in my tote bag and found a couple of barrettes and a comb, and we decided to wing it.

After a while, my friend Janet came downstairs from the reception area with a lack-of-progress report: "Your mother says you don't have enough sandwich fillings. And she wants to know why you didn't make the sandwiches ahead of time."

"Because I didn't get to Meier until 11 o'clock last night, is why. And I still had to help Bri put buttons on my dress. Tell her there will be enough." Janet dutifully went back upstairs with my reply.

It's a 10-minute drive on a Saturday morning from the church to the apartment; the kids had been gone close to an hour by now. I was a little anxious, particularly since my daughter was supposed to be my one attendant.

After a while, Janet - who is, incidentally, the pastor's secretary - came back. The cake had arrived, and my mother and the Cake Lady wanted to know where to put it. "On a table," I suggested. "Geez, Janet - you work here! You figure it out!"

Back upstairs went Janet.

A little bit later, Janet again: "Your mother wants to know where the makings are for the punch." Well, duh... The makings for the freakin' punch were sitting in their freakin' cans, thawing in the freakin' sink in the freakin' kitchen in my freakin' apartment. Where did she think the makings for the punch were?

At this point, the kids had been gone an hour and ten minutes, and I was getting really antsy. I called the apartment, hoping they were still there - hoping they weren't wandering lost in the wilderness of the East End, hoping they could snag the juice and ginger ale and other ingredients for the fabulous "Baptist Champagne" I'd planned, hoping they were going to make it back for the wedding - but there was no reply.

"Don't worry," said Janet. "We'll think of something." Okay, kiddo - not worrying. Also not thinking about a white horse. (Old joke from my grade school days - if you're not older than dirt, you won't get it.) Also not thinking about a train wreck...

Five minutes later, Bri and Mitch returned with my jacket, her suit, and no punch makings. "Don't worry," Bri told me, skinnying into her silk pants. "Where's the kitchen?" Five minutes after that, she and her brother passed by with their arms full of random partially full juice jugs and packages of frozen fruit and a few cans of soda - we had punch coming up. The girl is the world's greatest Crisis Chef - throw her into an ingredientless surprise dinner party, and you will dine in style.

45 minutes to kick-off. The groom had arrived, thanks be to God. (I'd even panicked about that.) Everyone was dressed. Paula had found me a "something borrowed" and a "something blue" to go with my new dress and shoes and my old pearls: she tied her small daughter's Barbie comb around my ankle with a length of the blue crochet thread she was using to make Barbie a dress. (The comb is long gone, but the thread is still tied around the handle of my best hairbrush.) And... here came Janet.

"Your mother is upset." Okay. And your point is...? "She says there are no nuts."

I looked at her for a second, opened my mouth, and let out the first thing that fell from my brain: "Janet. Look around you. We're surrounded by nuts."

She shook her head and left. Five minutes later, she was back. "It's okay," she said. "Your father has gone to get nuts."

At this point, "geez Louise" went out the door. I started with my high-school-favorite string of expletives and rolled downhill from there. My dad always got people lost with his directions - he'd invariably give you two or three alternate ways to get there, and somewhere in the middle, he'd start crossing them up. And he couldn't follow them, either. He'd forget the name of the street where he was supposed to turn, he'd confuse right and left, he'd eventually find his way back because he made a point of keeping the sun in the right position in relation to himself (honest to God), but he'd be late and he wouldn't have - or even remember - what he went for.

We were going to be cleaning up after the reception at six in the evening, and my dad was going to get back - without the nuts.

30 minutes to kick-off. Janet (who had beat a hasty retreat after the previous encounter) returned with more news. "Your mother is going to kill your father."

"Okay," I said. "At this point, she's probably looking for someone to kill. Might as well be Daddy. But I'm curious as to why."

As it turns out, my dad had been given directions to the Kroger on Brownsboro Road. It's easy, really: go west on Frankfort to Ewing, right on Ewing, left on Brownsboro, and there you are. However, he'd gotten as far as the intersection of Frankfort and Ewing, spotted a Walgreen's drug store, and decided they'd have nuts.

Which they did.

My dad had returned with about 50 single-serving packages of Planter's peanuts. They were on special.

The bottom line: My mom did not kill my dad. (Parkinson's did that several years later, but that's another blog, and I feel like laughing tonight, so we'll leave it.) The wedding happened, and the groom stayed for the whole thing - and he's still here. In spite of it being November 3, the weather was like April - or May, even: 75 degrees and not a cloud to be found. Georgianna finally got to sit down and rest her feet, Janet was impressed with the punch, and everyone thought the cake was gorgeous.

And eight years later, we're still telling the story about the nuts.

02 September 2009

Pedaling

It took me a while to get the hang of the gears.

My first bike was a Catalina cruiser, teal green with rainbows on the fenders. I was ten years old when I got it, and I'd wanted one for years - my brother was six, and he got his first bike the same Christmas. That did not please me, but the rainbow fenders made up for it, mostly. Not that the sibling rivalry disappeared, then or ever. And not that that's a problem...

In the 70s, I had a 10-speed, which I never did figure out. I finally set it in the gear that felt most like the cruiser and left it there. Rode it for quite some time - took it to California with me, and rode it to my doctor's appointments in San Jose when I was pregnant, up through the 7th month. Stopped when someone stole it out of the bushes one night while we were in the movie theater.

Rode for a little bit 10-15 years ago, in eastern North Carolina. Had a couple of close calls with good old boys - in combination with trucks and beer, I believe - and one nearly-nasty incident with a couple of really bad dogs, the kind that don't bark. You know, the ones you realize are about to attack when you feel their breath on your ankles. After that, my range started shrinking, and I quickly gave up riding the Carolina back roads.

Thanks to a friend who's been commuting on his bike for several years, I started riding again two years ago, and fell back in love with the speed, the motion - the freedom. This year, I kicked off the season with the American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure in May, and I haven't looked back. I did 14 miles on the Tour before I had a flat that wouldn't hold air any more. I'm now up close to 30 miles at a stretch, and I'll be at 60 by October, when my brother (remember him?) and I do a three-day ride from Carrollton, KY to the general vicinity of Bowling Green, near the Tennessee border. I was thinking about it, until he said, "If you'll do it, I will." That's where old sibling rivalry becomes a good thing: when your kid brother offers to drive from the D.C. suburbs to Louisville, Kentucky, if it will get you off your ass and get you moving.

Pedaling I could do. But shifting was a bit beyond me until about mid-summer. My friend Kirk, the bike commuter, noted during the Tour de Cure that I wasn't using my gears "efficiently." He kept telling me I should be using the higher gears to build up to hills, and I'm thinking, "Yeah, sure, and then what?" He told me that day to work with them, learn the feel of each gear, and after a while, I wouldn't have to think about it.

By July, I knew, at least in theory, that it was kind of like that Volkswagen Beetle I learned to drive in 1970: You start out in first gear, or you don't get going. You shift to the middle gears for cruising. And the high gears are for going downhill without burning out your brakes.

July 7, I got a heavy-duty lesson in first gear: I tried to start off going uphill on an unfamiliar rural road in New Jersey (yes, they have rural roads in New Jersey, and they're beautiful!) in too high a gear - around 6 on the second derailleur - and my foot slipped off the pedal. Three days later, we figured out it was the metal brace - actually a heavy-gauge wire - holding the fender to the axle that caught my shin and ripped it from about midway above the ankle almost to my knee, and nearly to the bone. What I learned there, in the order of learning:
  • The inside of the human leg is not attractive in the least.
  • It is possible to get a very nasty injury on a bike and never hit the ground, or anything else, as far as one can tell.
  • New Jersey emergency service personnel are absolutely the bestest!
  • I get talkative and even witty when I'm in shock. (There's now a whole dark comedy routine surrounding the incident. I drag it out at parties and meetings when I'm wearing a short dress and my scar shows.)
  • Those metal braces that hold the fenders to the axles are supposed to have rubber caps, and you should always check them when you do your ABC Quick Check.*
  • And when starting off going uphill, the best gear is first derailleur, somewhere in the neighborhood of no higher than 2 or 3. Your foot may spin, but it won't slip, you won't wobble, and the worst that will happen is that you'll have to stop, shift up a notch, and go again.
It took me a week to get back on the bike after that. We came home to Kentucky and the doctor who checked my stitches - 21, in case anyone wants to know - said I could ride again any time I felt like it, but I was scared. I didn't realize how scared for a few more days, when the shock finally wore off and I lost it completely. Then I nearly panicked. Here I'd finally found I was good at something physical - me, the girl who was not only picked last for teams, but over whom there were arguments about who had to take her - and I loved it, but I was afraid to do it again.

I told Ed - told him how scared I was, how scared I'd been, how I'd stood on the side of that road, holding the edges of my laid-open leg together, and I'd thought, "I could die out here. I could bleed to death on this day, in this park beside this road in New Jersey." And God bless him, as nervous as I know it makes him for me to be out there riding around in traffic (even with a helmet), he said, "Well, then, you have to get back on."

After that, I started getting it very quickly. I had a couple of "instructional moments" with Kirk and - second-hand - with a guy who works with Ed, who I've never met but who does a lot of distance riding, and I started taking off in lower gears and paying attention to how they felt, and it didn't take long at all.

When you're pedaling, you hit a point where it feels easy. Not just good, but almost too easy. The pedals are going fast, and you're flying along - but you're not moving any faster. You learn where that point is, and then you learn to shift up just before you get there. That's the magic: It isn't supposed to be hard most of the time, but it's not supposed to be coasting all the way.

You learn the sensation - the tension in your calves, the mild pressure in your thighs and hamstrings, nothing difficult, but definitely there. If it's missing, you're giving up power. When you get that push going, it's easier to throw yourself behind a hill - and when you hit a bitch of a hill, it's not impossible anymore. Then you shift down, and you can keep going.

This evening, after four days down with mild flu-like symptoms, I came home from my second day back at work - rode in with Ed this morning - and got the bike out of the shed. It's Wednesday, which is the day I take my crochet bag over to Maryhurst and spend an hour with the teenage girls who live there. Maryhurst is at the top of a hill that's at the top of another hill, and I'd never tackled either of those hills before. And they're both bitches.

I remember thinking back in the spring that I might never be able to ride all the way up the Maryhurst hill. This evening, I had to slow down as I made the corner into the drive, so I lost some push there, but I was nearly halfway up before I had to shift from the second derailleur to the first, and I made it to the top. I was in 1:1 mode, but by God, I did it. Okay, we did it - I was praying Anne Lamott's favorite prayer, "Help me, help me, thank you, thank you," from right after I shifted the first time, all the way up - but a few feet from the crest, I took a quick break from prayer to say, "Woo-hoo! HAH!"

There's a three-day ride waiting for me in October. Little Brother has already said he's in it for the ride, not the competition, which is okay by me. The second day is about 90 miles, and I can see it taking me 10 hours easily. And I may have to push Nellie Belle up some of those mid-Kentucky hills.

But not until I've hit 1:1 and she won't go any more. Because I can pedal, and I get it. I feel the gears now, and I know how to work them. And it can only get better from here.

Pedal on!


*ABC Quick Check:
  • A - air: Check your tires - preferably with a gauge
  • B - brakes: When you hold your brake handle and push the bike against it, does the other wheel come off the ground? It should.
  • C - chain and crank: Are your pedals stable? Do they wobble on the crank? (Not good.) Is your chain lubricated and looking good? AND - as of July 7, 2009 - CAPS: Are those little rubber cap thingies on your axle braces where they're supposed to be? And if not, is SOMETHING covering the ends of those heavy-gauge wires? A serious layer of electrical tape will do - just make sure they're covered!
  • Quick - quick release levers: They hold the wheels and often the seat, handlebars, and various other parts onto modern bikes. Make sure they're (a) down tight and (b) facing in a direction where they won't catch your clothing or anything else and throw you.
  • Check: Take a spin in a circle around the parking lot or cul-de-sac and see if you feel something you might've missed in your visual check.

01 September 2009

Tomatoes

It's the annual onslaught.

Dad tried to warn me. He told everyone else to tell me, too - don't plant more than five tomato plants! I compromised (again this year) with five varieties: two Kentucky heirlooms, a Hungarian paste tomato, and I forget what others, but they're good 'uns. One plum, one smallish round - mixed with the Hungarian plums, dark red with black-green markings, they'll make wonderful pasta sauce for this winter. And of course, I don't even count the cherry tomato bush in the herb bed, between the driveway and the back door. We pick those in passing and eat them as we walk, still warm from the afternoon sun.

The Kentucky tomatoes are special, though. Joe Thienaman - named for a native son - has round fruit, fiery red and weighing in close to - even over - a pound apiece. If I try to carry more than four cradled in my arms, I start dropping them. Grandfather Ashlock is one of those meaty, deep pink tomatoes, not quite as monstrous as the JTs, but big. Double-globed, with the stem end set low in the center, so the only way to slice them is to cut the stem out in a V and split them at the crease, then slice the halves. The seeds are compactly placed, so the fruit is mostly just fruit, sweet and dribble-down-your-chin juicy.

The garlic got away from me. I didn't know until into the summer, talking to a local farmer at the farmer's market, that I should've clipped the sprouts - scapes, they're called - trimmed them back when they got 10-12 inches high, to force more energy into the bulbs. I also didn't know you can chop those scapes and use them like you would chives, but I reckon I'll weed the bed, mulch it down, and see if they come back next year. Bulbs will be bulbs.

We had beautiful zucchini early on - two varieties, one with dark green and yellow striped skins that got big without getting tough or mealy. It was a short season, but it was nice while it lasted. Zucchini boats stuffed with a mix of cornbread, almonds, mozzarella, and peppers made a lovely supper in July. The Japanese eggplant is just now starting to bloom - guess we'll see how that goes.

Missed out on the okra season, so I'm saving those seeds for next year, too. I figured it needed to be hot as Hades for okra, so I waited until August, and then - derned Kentucky! - August turned cool. Never would've happened if I'd had something in that needed cool...

On the other hand, I jumped the gun on the broccoli and cauliflower. Couldn't figure out why they got big and bushy and did absolutely nothing else, until a friend from up in Michigan pointed out they're winter crops - they aren't going to do anything until it gets down in the 40s at night! So I pulled those out, and we're going to replant them in October. See what happens then.

Potatoes - too wet this year to bother. Parsnips and carrots - later. They'll do for fall and winter crops. We have beans and a few peas, enough to freeze but not enough to can. But tomatoes...

My favorite summer lunch is a tomato sandwich - just sliced tomato, bread, and a tiny bit of mayonnaise and some pepper - and a tall glass of ice water. Last night, we had the perfect summer supper: baked chicken (Holly Clegg's Dijon Rosemary Chicken, with paprika added for fun - 10 minutes of prep, 50 minutes in the oven, and SO good), a little cornbread stuffing, and sliced tomatoes. I cut up four big fruit, and there were three small slices left when the four of us left the table.

Of course, the best part of the perfect summer supper is having everyone at the table, sitting down, eating slowly, talking and laughing and passing the plates again. No TV, no phone ringing. Just family. But even the talk comes back to the tomatoes this time of year. At one point, my daughter remarked that since we've been growing our own, eating them fresh from the garden and chemical-free, she has to ask the folks in restaurants to hold the tomatoes - they're no good any more. Once you've had a season of tomatoes fresh from the garden, ripened on the vine rather than in a crate on a truck coming in from California - and in season, not forced in a hothouse in mid-winter - commercial tomatoes just don't seem quite right. It's not that the commercial tomatoes have changed, just that once your mouth knows how a tomato is supposed to taste and feel, it gets right picky.

Maybe girls from Minnesota and Wisconsin get misty-eyed over broccoli or parsnips. I don't know, but I guess it could happen. I'm from North Carolina, and my dad was from Mississippi, and my mom is from Alabama, and for me, it's all about tomatoes.

05 June 2009

Pruning

Ed was going to cut the grass this evening, so I volunteered to get out and prune the low branches on our three little trees first. I managed two.

The first one was easy -- the Japanese smoke bush I planted shortly after we moved in three years ago. It's supposed to get 12 to 15 feet tall, which was going to make it perfect for the spot where I put it, in the center right, directly in the path of the mid- to late afternoon sun that blazes into the kitchen and heats the whole room to a near boil. But what had happened was that it formed an odd, somewhat scraggly little bushy section at the bottom, up to about five feet, then sent three gangly shoots straight up from the center. There they were, three giraffe branches, sticking up in the air, pretty much buck-naked except for a fluffy cluster of leaves and smoky foliage at the top of each. It was downright goofy-looking, in spite of the beauty of those leaves -- dark, dark green on the tops, deep, plummy, velvety red on the undersides -- and the blossoms that honestly do look like puffs of smoke.

About three weeks ago, I lopped off the giraffe branches, and the scraggly bush unscraggled itself. In the last week, it's reached a good six feet, plus a few inches, I think. It's fat and full, and the formerly blossomless limbs are becoming a soft cloud of soft, silvery plum. It's also put out shoots at the bottom, making it almost impossible to get the lawnmower up underneath.

So I trimmed back the really rangy branches, and then ducked under and snipped everything green that was less than two feet from the ground. My smoke bush is still fat and sassy, and none the worse for the haircut. I even had some gumption left for deadheading the roses (which were in desperate need of deadheading, I promise you).

[That reminds me -- I need to add self-rising flour to the grocery list. It's a great non-hazmat insecticide. Sift a light coating over the roses in the late morning, and the beetles blow themselves up by evening.]

Then I headed out to the side yard to trim the little tree there. I don't know what this tree is, other than a real piece of work. It's pretty, I'll grant you -- all over white blossoms in the earliest spring, clusters of dark green leaves and red berries later in summer -- and, okay, it's not really that little. I'm pretty sure it tops out over 15 feet already; I know it has a good six-foot radius, at least.

All Ed really wanted was the lowhanging branches trimmed back, especially where they hung over the property line and made life difficult for the back-door neighbor when he mowed. When I got into it, though, I found many of the low branches were dying from lack of sunlight. Additionally, it was sprouting from the bottom, putting up gangly tendrils that wound pale and anemic-looking around the trunk, and the grass was thick between the small growths.

It took me an hour. I made two full circuits, first whacking anything that hung too low or was obviously dead. The second round was in search of sickly limbs that were drawing energy from healthier ones. This wasn't a haircut. It was surgery.

Pruning, for me, is a very right-brained activity. (Okay, I'll admit it: I can make almost anything a right-brained activity. But anything garden-related, especially.) I look, I assess, I snip or whack or pinch. The only words that run through my conscious mind, at least for the first 30 minutes or so, are "good" and "ick" and "out."

After about half an hour, though, the poor left brain is rested up from its stressful, overworked week at the office, and it wakes up. That's when I start thinking about other things. That's when the right brain takes the left brain exploring.

A woman in my writers' group last night read us a poem she'd written about weeding. She put it in the context of herself as conquerer first, but then as alien invader -- like, "Who's the bad guy, really?" I thought of that, and I saw myself snipping and pinching and whacking, and I thought, "Merciless."

Then I thought, "But."

The branches I cut from that tree were sickly. Or they were baked -- dehydrated. Some of them looked scaly, almost crusty, their leaves brown at the edges and thin. Maybe four leaves and one grayish-whitish berry per stem. Farther down the branch would be clusters of greener leaves, pinkish berries, struggling to make more but unable to succeed because the others sucked up their nourishment before it got all the way out, and then pissed it away. Too puny and light-starved to get better, but too greedy to die back.

So.

The tree hangs not so low now. Some of the branches visibly gained altitude the second I cut their dead-weight growth and let it fall. Some I just thinned or trimmed a little, so the inner leaves could get more sun. Amputations were required.

My back hurts now, from all the bending and reaching, and then lifting and stuffing branches into bags, and hauling them to the trash. The tree's revenge, I suppose. That, and the sharp, tangy-harsh smell of the sap on the cut branches, on my hands -- stained pale green when I went inside -- in my hair, clinging inside my nostrils and making me sneeze and then stinking still.

16 April 2009

Living Lent

Seems to me the folks who think Lent is all about deprivation and doing penance and gloom and doom and sackcloth and ashes and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth are maybe overdoing it a bit. In fact, it seems to me they might have wandered off the path and got lost in the woods -- the Dark Side of spirituality.

And before you say it, I know Lent is over. It ended last Sunday with ringing bells and waving banners and -- in our congregation, at least -- the Grand Finale of the End of Lent: everyone, and I mean everyone, singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Seriously. We do it every year. The choir comes up to the balcony, and anyone else who wants to sing comes along, at least until there's no more room or we run out of battered, dog-eared scores, and we belt it out. Every time during the service someone says "alleluia," whether it's in a hymn or during the sermon or in the middle of a prayer, everyone who remembered to bring a bell with them rings that bell, and when we sing at the end, all the bells go crazy.

So cool. Otay, Spanky. Lent is over. Kind of.

Here's what I think: Lent is about thoughtfulness and deliberateness. Lent is about paying attention to the health of your soul, which is probably feeling somewhat neglected after a year of being ignored while slogging through this crazy life. And don't tell me you don't ignore your soul. I think the only people who don't are monks and nuns -- and maybe not even all of them.

Someone I deeply respected told me years ago that Lent was a time to take something on, not give something up. This guy was one of the most giving spirits I've ever encountered, but he found even more to give during Lent. We had this particular conversation when I came on him in the breakroom, eating a PBJ and reading Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. I asked him what he was reading, and he told me -- and then he said, "I read it every year during Lent. It reminds me of who I am."

This year, a group of us decided to read a book after Lent, and after Easter -- a post-Lenten study, if you will. The book is called Living the Jesus Creed, and it's basically 50 daily readings -- seven weeks' worth -- focused on the Shema, what Christians often call "The Great Commandment." If you're Jewish, you'll know immediately what I'm talking about. If you're Christian, I hate to break it to you, but Jesus didn't think it up all by himself. When he told that young man the greatest commandment was to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might," he didn't just pull that out of a hat. Check out Deuteronomy 6:5.

Then go back and check out verse 4: "Hear, O Israel -- the Lord is One. The Lord thy God is One." That is a sermon all by itself, and one of these blogs, I'll hold forth on what the rabbi at Congregation Sha'arei Israel had to say about that.

The second part, the Gospel addendum, is of course "love thy neighbor as thyself," which most of us are still trying to figure out. Are we assuming "love" is defined as a self-preservation kind of thing? Are we saying we must end every conversation with "I love you," like the goofball in the Arby's commercial? What? Most of us have come back around to the former, I think -- it's safer that way. Means we don't have to be nice to the a--hole next door whose dog gets ours wound up by wandering up our driveway just for fun and whose kid rides his riding lawnmower around the yard at 10 p.m. We don't have to be friendly, we just have to not kill him, because that wouldn't be a loving thing to do.

But I digress. (I love saying that. It puts such polish on the old ADHD!) There's the book, which breaks down the whole commandment (New Testament version) and encourages us to focus on it every day, all day, whenever we think of it -- to make it a part of our lives.

There's also my own quest, which has been going on for years to one degree or another, but finally kicked into gear last year with the diagnosis that changed my whole view of who I am and why I do things the way I do. Once it was confirmed that I've been struggling with ADHD for probably close to five decades, I was able first to get a prescription that would sharpen the ability to focus and keep the synapses from firing off too willy-nilly. Second, once I saw what I'd been missing, I found a life coach who could help me figure out what to do with all that stuff.

So in the past four months, I've made commitments on a weekly basis. I've set goals for each day -- and I've had to learn what a reasonable expectation looks like, because I was previously the Queen of the Eternal To-Do List. You know, the kind where you start one morning with a really great list of 10 things you're going to do that day, and by the end of the day, you've finished four of them, bagged three as being either redundant or obsolete, and bumped the remaining three to the next day's list. Eventually, you have a list 40 items long, 20 of which have daily been bumped to "tomorrow" for months. This month, I've been on my own except for a monthly phone call to report my progress, and things are starting to click. For this month, I've made two hard and fast commitments: to write something every day, and to ride my bike outdoors every day the weather permits. Everything else is pretty general, and it's going to get done. It just doesn't have to be on a tight schedule. I've learned to break the work up into zones, if it's physical, or blocks, if it's more intellectual, and just do it for a few minutes at a time, and it gets done much more efficiently than I'd ever have expected.

The Pogo Stick of Thought has just jumped off the sidewalk again...

So here's the point. It's actually three commitments.
  1. I'm getting up early each morning for the next 49 days (we started today) to read a chapter of the book with Ed. I want to do this with someone, to keep myself on task and aware. Part of it's the accountability thing -- I have to finish the study if I'm sharing it. Part of it is the family thing -- Ed and I are the core of this family, and we need to share some core beliefs, or at least understand each other's interpretation of those beliefs.
  2. Getting up early gives me at least an hour more than I've had before to get ready for work and get out the door. This means I can leave in time to catch the bus. This means that, unless the weather is really ugly, I can ride. I can bike to the bus stop up the hill, take the bus to Crescent Hill, and bike the remaining 4-1/2 miles to work, and then I can bike home. By the end of the summer, I'd like to be able to do the whole 15 miles each way, but I don't have to, at least until I commit to doing it. Right now, it's a "like to."
  3. I am a writer. Yes, I write all day at the office. But I've committed to writing something each day that is important for me to write. That means either posting a blog entry, or working on a story, or doing an article or other project I've assigned myself.
Between now and the end of May, those are my commitments. That's my Living Lent. We went through the 40 days and 40 nights of the official season, and now I'm making a commitment to move forward with the same deliberateness, the same care, the same attention to the health of my soul and the realism of my expectations.

Not sure where it's going to get me, but I feel pretty positive about it.